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Bobby Hamilton, 49; NASCAR driver died of cancer

January 08, 2007|From the Associated Press

NASHVILLE — Bobby Hamilton, the longtime NASCAR driver who won the 2001 Talladega 500 and was the 2004 Craftsman Truck Series champion, died Sunday, said Liz Allison, a family friend who was the co-host of a radio show with him. He was 49.

Hamilton was at home with his family when he died of cancer, said Allison, the widow of former NASCAR star Davey Allison.

"The thing I loved about Bobby Sr. so much is that he treated everybody the same," she said. "It didn't matter if you were one of the drivers he competed against or a fan he'd never laid eyes on before. He didn't have a pretentious bone in his body. I think that's why people were drawn to him. He was just very real and had a way of relating to everyone."

Hamilton was diagnosed with head and neck cancer in February. A malignant growth was found when swelling from dental surgery did not subside.

He raced in the season's first three events, with a best finish of 14th at Atlanta Motor Speedway, before turning over the wheel to his son, Bobby Hamilton Jr. The senior Hamilton then started chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

By August, he had returned to work at Bobby Hamilton Racing in Mount Juliet, Tenn., about 20 miles east of Nashville, and doctors indicated his CAT scans looked good. But microscopic cancer cells remained on the right side of his neck.

"Cancer is an ongoing battle, and once you are diagnosed you always live with the thought of the disease in your body," Hamilton said in an article posted on NASCAR's website last month. "It is the worst thing you could ever imagine."

Hamilton was born in Nashville in 1957.

He drove in all of NASCAR's top three divisions, making 371 starts and winning four times in what is now the Nextel Cup series. He won 10 truck races and one Busch Series race.

Hamilton's Nextel Cup wins, in addition to the victory in Talladega, Ala., came in Phoenix; Rockingham, N.C.; and Martinsville, Va. His best season was in 1996, when he finished ninth in the points standings. He won his first Nextel Cup race that year, at Phoenix.

Hamilton drove in the top-level NASCAR series from 1989 to 2005, earning $14.3 million and racing to 20 top-five finishes. He became a full-time driver-owner in the truck series in 2003.

"I love what I do; I love this business," Hamilton said in March, when he disclosed that he had cancer. "NASCAR has been good to me, and I just don't feel comfortable when I am not around it."

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